May 27, 2020
STUC and unions to ramp up support for workers amid fears that current crisis could bring about massive breakdown in workplace relations.
Calls for a moratorium on contract changes during the period the scheme is in operation.
The STUC today announced that urgent action was required to ensure the effective implementation of the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. On Friday it launched a survey of workers to help it to assess what support was required.
The central importance of agreement between unions and employers over all workplace issue arising from this crisis was at the heart of the joint statement the STUC agreed with the Scottish Government last week.
Hundreds of thousands of workers across the Scottish economy are potentially impacted by the scheme. A large number of these will not currently be union members. The STUC said that in some workplaces where unions were recognised, there was evidence that early negotiations were taking place and that furloughing would be successfully concluded. However in other unionised workplaces negotiations continued to be challenging.
It pointed to a negotiated agreement at Tunnock’s by Unite the Union which guaranteed 90% wage support during the furlough period and contrasted it with other non-essential food sector workplaces, including in the unionised sector, which continued to stay open and compromise staff safety. It said there was also emerging evidence of the misuse of the furlough system to drive down their contractual obligations.
The STUC fears that the process of temporarily closing down, then fairly administering the furlough system, and then coming out safely at the other side, was fraught with risks including the break-down of trust, misuse of the furlough to alter workers contracts and potential breaches of equality law. It also predicted that some employers would lose staff they want to retain if good relations were not maintained and workers began looking around for other work.
Recognising that many of the issues could be the result of error or confusion, it offered to put employers in touch with unions to conclude voluntary recognition agreements to allow for informed negotiation to take place. But it also warned that wilful and cynical misuse of the wage support scheme would be met by determined worker action supported by unions.
It said that unions would support members where recognition exists and urged non-members in unionised workplaces to join up immediately. With so many existing members to support and the impact on officers and reps of the virus itself, it warned that unions were under major resource pressure. It promised to do all that was possible to support groups of workers without unions wishing to negotiate with their employer.
STUC General Secretary Designate Rozanne Foyer said:
“We pressed the UK Government to deliver the wage support scheme and it has certainly provided a basis for wage support that will relieve the pressure on many. However, the scheme is being applied in less than ideal circumstances. Too many employers are not equipped to deal with this issue. Too few recognise unions and use a mix of contracts such as zero hours, agency and bogus self-employed.
“It appears that a minority are already gearing up to abuse the scheme to drive through changes to working conditions that are unacceptable.
“We recognise that the detail of the scheme has only recently been released. Even then there are number of things we still want to clarify. We want a clear statement from the UK that any abuse of the scheme will be met with a punitive response. We are also calling for an imposed moratorium on all contract changes during the period of the Job Guarantee scheme.
“We are making an open appeal to affected businesses across Scotland ‘Get into immediate negotiations with unions and if you don’t have a union agreement in place, contact us and we will assist in contacting the right union for you. As our joint statement with the Scottish Government emphasised, in these exceptional times employers, unions and workers must agree appropriate arrangements that ensure that workers are treated fairly.
“To workers we say. ‘Contact your union as soon as you can. Join a union if you are not already and a member and contact us if you need support.”
More from Scottish Trade Union Congress here https://www.stuc.org.uk